§ Order of the day for the House to be put into Committee, read.
§ Moved "That the House do now resolve itself into Committee upon the said Bill."—(The Lord Chancellor of Ireland.)
§ THE EARL OF HOWTH
remarked that it would be of interest to the large body of landlords and tenants in Ireland if they could have the assurance that even a larger sum than £5,000,000 would be guaranteed for the purpose of land purchase. No doubt the tenants of Ulster had had the largest share of the first £5,000,000. That part of Ireland was 1222 largely blessed with peace and quietness. It was true the Act had not been so successful in the South of Ireland, but that was owing to the ignorance of the tenantry and the influence of the National League. In his opinion the future success of this scheme depended very largely upon how the money was allocated. The landlords felt deeply thankful to the Government for introducing this Bill in the present critical circumstances; and, on behalf of those landlords, he congratulated Lord Ashbourne on the success of the Act of 1885. Land purchase was a medium to promote Imperial interests, by appeasing the discontented, by satisfying the earth-hunger in Ireland, and by showing those in favour of Home Rule that the Imperial Parliament was able to legislate satisfactorily for them. The measure would no doubt tend to bring about a Home Rule much stronger than the political Home Rule which had been proposed to the tenants. There were, however, influences and circumstances in Ireland which might cause considerable delay in the administration of the Act, and there were no doubt parts of the country where it would not be to the public interest to administer it. The interests of the British taxpayers would not be safeguarded if the principle "first come first served" were to be rigidly observed. He hoped that, if in the early days of the operation of the measure, the Government found that it was working in such a way as not to justify any future grants being made, they would amend it by giving the Executive the right to consider the allocation of the money. He regretted that such a provision was not embodied in the present Bill.
§ EARL FORTESCUE
said, that two noble Lords who had filled the Office of Lord Lieutenant dealt with the question of arrears on Tuesday night last, and rather implied that the Irish tenants were suffering the greatest hardships from intolerably high rents. They had also heard a great deal about the Irish tenantry having improved the land and buildings which they held. No doubt a large portion of the buildings were put up by the tenants in Ireland, but they seldom heard of the substantial contributions which, on very many estates besides his own, had been given by the landlords in aid of the erection of 1223 those buildings without any interest or increase of rent in consequence. There was one point which the Irish Members were very well aware of, but which a great many Englishmen who were now in alliance with the majority of the Representatives from Ireland were not aware of, or took care to ignore—namely, that the ignorance, the improvidence, and the folly of a large proportion of the Irish farmers had deteriorated and reduced the natural fertility of the land to a very great extent. The practice of paring and burning, which destroyed the permanent fertility of the land, and which was prohibited by an Act of Parliament—by Grattan's Parliament—was still systematically carried on in many parts of Ireland. During the decade from 1851 to 1860, when there were over 2,000,000 acres in Ireland under oats, the average yield per acre was 13 cwt. and three-tenths; while in the decade between 1871 and 1880, when about 1,500,000 acres were under oats, the average yield was 13 cwt. and one-tenth. Taking the years 1851, 1852, and 1853, the average yield in those three years was 14 cwt.; so that the tendency had been apparently towards deterioration. Taking the next great staple of Irish produce—potatoes; in the first of the two decades to which he had referred the average yield was 4¼ tons per acre, and in the second decade it had fallen to three tons per acre. In the three years 1851, 1852, and 1853, the average yield was over five tons per acre; these figures went to show how systematic had been the deterioration of the fertility of the land under the mismanagement of the tenants. The Irish tenantry did not, therefore, deserve so much credit for unremunerated skill as they generally received. It was all very well to talk of the added value of the farm-buildings and improvements of the tenants, but those buildings and improvements did not appear to have told in favour of the average produce of the land. The significant facts to which he had alluded were carefully overlooked by those who made inflammatory speeches against the Irish landlords.
§ Motion agreed to; House in Committee accordingly.
§ Clause 1 (Increase of limit of Advances by Irish Land Commission, and provision therefor) agreed to.1224
§ Clause 2 (Limitation of advances).
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
said, he rose to move as an Amendment the insertion, after the word "advance" in line 13, of the words "in respect of any application made after the passing of this Act." He did not wish to oppose the clause or to criticize it adversely. He cordially sympathized with what was the evident object of the Government—namely, a further extension of the Land Purchase Act of 1885 to increase more largely than hitherto the number of occupying owners of land in Ireland. Experience clearly showed that the cause of law and order in Ireland had been advanced by the creation of a large number of small owners. He trusted, however, that the Government would understand that that reduction of the maximum advance would not be accepted in any way as a precedent for future legislation on the purchase question. This clause limited the advance to the sum of £3,000 to any one tenant, but the Commissioners had a discretion in certain cases, but he would like to see the maximum £5,000. He hoped that the Government would give a distinct assurance that purchasers above £3,000 should not be excluded from the operation of the Bill. It would be grossly unfair to the valuable class of yeomen in Ireland that they should be expected to hold their land on less favourable terms than less capable and less deserving men. He might point out that considerable expense had been incurred with regard to applications already awaiting the sanction of the Purchase Commissioners, and that it would be a great hardship if this expense should be thrown away. It was in order to obviate that that he moved this Amendment, which he would respectfully press the Government to accept. His Amendment would enable all applications previous to the passing of the Act to come under the new rules, and he did not think it fair even to the Commissioners to adopt the course contemplated by the clause as it stood at present.
§ Amendment moved, in page 1, line 13, after ("advance") insert ("in respect of any application made after the passing of this Act.")—(The Viscount de Vesci.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR OF IRELAND (Lord ASHBOURNE)
said, he believed the Amendment was out of Order. 1225 This was a money clause, and the Amendment, if accepted, would increase the possible charge on the public funds; it was not competent for their Lordships' House to deal with it. He did not, however, anticipate that any of the inconveniences to which his noble Friend had referred would arise from the operation of the clause as it stood.
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
asked, in this case, that the Government should not press the Bill through that evening, but, on Report, insert a clause stating that the action of the Bill should be prospective in all its details.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, he trusted the noble and learned Lord would accede to that suggestion. The question affected not only the amount of the expenditure, but the application of the fund. It was clear to him that the House of Commons did not intend to do the injustice of making the Bill retrospective, and to affect applications that were already before the Commission. Take the case of a landlord who had made an agreement with his tenant before this Bill was thought of. The agreement had been signed, and application had been made for the purchase money. Considerable expense would have been entailed, but the preliminary sanction of the Purchase Commissioners had not yet been obtained. That was the point sought to be covered by the Amendment. If it was clear that the House of Commons did intend to make this clause retrospective and to do that injustice, there might be very great difficulty in dealing with this clause as a money clause.
§ LORD LECONFIELD
said, he was exactly in the position described by the noble and learned Lord. The papers in a land transaction between himself and a tenant were nearly completed, and the only thing remaining to be done was to receive the approval of the Commissioners. Would he be unable to complete that sale, and would all the expense incurred be thrown away?
THE EARI OF BELMORE
said, he did not attach much importance to the provision, as there would be comparatively few applications beyond the limit of £3,000, but he hoped the Government would consent to consider it, and, if possible, agree to it. He did not think the case just alluded to by his 1226 noble Friend would come within the scope of this provision, because it had already been dealt with by the Commissioners. He had had himself some experience of land purchase in Ireland, and he thought it was very desirable that every part of the funds should be made to go as far as possible in advances to purchasers, and that as little as possible should be let out in loans.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
said, this matter had been already maturely considered by the authorities accustomed to deal with such matters, and it was agreed, as it had also struck himself, that it would be outside the competence of the House to deal with it. They all expected that the whole £5,000,00 would be needed, but it was not probabilities, but possibilities, that they must discuss, and supposing the whole £5,000,000 were not needed, the effect of the Amendment might be to place the increased burden of the difference between £3,000 and £5,000 upon the public funds. He had the greatest sympathy, however, with the observations which noble Lords had made in favour of the Amendment; but this subject had been keenly debated at great length in the House of Commons. Opinions differed very widely upon it. A great many felt much sympathy with many of the observations which had just been made, but he knew that there was a great and powerful section of opinion in favour of the way this clause was drafted. He thought it would be inexpedient for their Lordships to entertain this Amendment, even if it were competent for them to do so, but the opinion he held, as he had already stated, was that it was not competent for their Lordships to entertain it.
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
urged the importance of giving encouragement to the substantial yeomen, the most loyal class in Ireland.
THE EARL OF MEATH
said, the point was an important one, and he hoped the Government would listen to the suggestion of his noble Friend.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY)
said, that he, with his noble and learned Friend, sympathized with the noble Lord (Viscount de Vesci), but he believed that to insert an Amendment of this description would be outside the competence of their Lordships' House. They could not secure 1227 indirectly by circuitous words that which was in substance an un-Constitutional principle.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, he did not think that a provision in the Bill declaring this Bill not to be retrospective would offend against the Constitutional principle.
§ LORD HALSBURY
said, that would be only another mode of stating the same thing. If they increased the subject matter with regard to which any part of the £5,000,000 might be appropriated, they would be enlarging the scope of what that £5,000,000, according to the House of Commons, might be spent on. The objection which had been urged referred to the substance of the Amendment, and he shared the doubts of his noble and learned Friend as to whether it was possible to attain the object in the way suggested without offending against Constitutional principle.
§ Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Relation of landlord and tenant determined by approval of advance).
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, that the clause was an important one, as it showed that all arrears of rent and other liabilities were, after the agreement to purchase, wiped out. The clause was so framed as to work great injustice, and to confiscate the right of the landlord to rent or its equivalent for a period that might cover one, two, or three years, whilst the tenant was in possession taking the profits and paying nothing. In addition, it was plain that if the clause remained without Amendment, it would operate in many instances as a prohibition against seeking the advantages of the Bill. He would, therefore, move the Proviso of which he had given Notice.
Moved, at the end of Clause 3, add the following Proviso:—
Provided that, notwithstanding anything in this section expressed, the vendor shall he entitled to recover from the vendee interest in lieu of rent for the period which may elapse between the date of signing the agreement for sale and the date of the completion of the sale by the Land Commissioner, unless the parties shall have otherwise agreed. Such interest to be calculated at the rate of four per cent per annum on the purchase money."—(The Lord Fitzgerald.)
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
said, he should support the Amendment. In his opinion, the clause was totally unnecessary, and might be struck out of the Bill, as the Purchase Commissioners had already the power to make such an order, and had exercised it on the 1st November.
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
said, that the question was fully discussed in the House of Commons. He admitted that the drafting of the clause was not felicitous, although his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack and himself thought the Act sufficiently clear already on the question of interest, and that there was nothing in it which would interfere with the existing practice of the Land Commissioners. But as it was desirable to make the point abundantly clear, he would accept the Amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Subletting to labourers and others) agreed to.
§ Clause 5 (Notice to be given when the existing fund will be exhausted).
VISCOUNT DE VESCI
said, he moved to omit the words after "same" to the end of the clause. The sum applied for up to November 30 was £6,140,000, or £1,140,000 beyond the amount sanctioned by Parliament, and of that some £700,000 or £800,000 was applied for early in the autumn, when it was still uncertain whether an extending Act would be brought forward. It was desirable that applicants should still be able to lodge agreements with the Land Commission at their own risk.
§ Amendment moved, in page 2, line 6, leave out from ("same") to the end of the clause.—(The Viscount de Vesci.)
§ LORD ASHBOURNE
said, that he was sorry he was not in a position to accept the Amendment, as the words of the clause were not thought unreasonable in the House of Commons, and they had been accepted by the Chief Secretary for Ireland on behalf of the Government. He therefore trusted the Amendment would not be pressed.
§ Amendment (by leave of the Committee) withdrawn: Then Standing Order No. XXXV. considered (according to order), and dispensed with: Amendment reported.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord Chancellor of Ireland.)1229
said, he should oppose the Motion, on the ground that it had been hurried through the House, and that it would be a heavy charge to the people of this country. In his opinion the Bill ought to be rejected.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.